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Washougal SD proposes first round of $3M budget cuts, at least 26 positions impacted

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The Washougal School District Administrative Offices are pictured Tuesday morning, April 14, 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

The Washougal School District (WSD) has come up with a proposal based on public input for how it might address an expected $3 million budget shortfall ahead of the 2024-25 school year.

The proposed budget cuts would impact at least 26 district employees — including teachers and other certificated staff, district and school building administrators and classified staff — and reduce non-staffing costs by $200,000 to $500,000.

The school district sent a survey to 3,000 district families and 500 staff members in early January to gauge their thoughts on the budget cuts. The district received about 600 responses through Jan. 22.

WSD Communications and Technology Director Les Brown told school board members Jan. 24, that 60% of the responses were from parents and guardians, 35% came from staff members, 30% were from community members and 5% came from students.

“I think we had a really good response from a variety of people that are interested in what’s happening in our schools,” Brown said.

Brown said survey respondents asked the district to prioritize K-5 specialist time, special education, career and technical education, counseling and student activities and athletics; consider consolidating offices and workspaces; consider restructuring its highly capable, English language learning and dual language programs; and consider eliminating its community education preschool. The respondents also asked the district to reduce training, travel and professional development; prioritize security services, maintenance/grounds, family resource centers and technology support; increase facility use fees; consolidate bus routes; and increase meal prices.

In response, the school district has proposed reductions that would impact four to six district and building administrators; 12 to 16 teachers and certificated staff; 10 to 13 classified staff members such as paraeducators, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers and district office clerical staff. The district also plans to reduce its non-staffing costs related to utilities, supplies, travel and training by $200,000 to $500,000.

Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said feedback from the community, students and staff asked district leaders to prioritize those closest to the students in the classrooms.

“I believe this reflects that,” Templeton said of the district’s proposed cuts. “Twelve percent (of the cuts are coming) from the administrative group. That’s a lot. But we’re prioritizing those closest to the classroom and working with students.”

WSD leaders project the school district’s ending general fund balance will drop to 5% by the end of the current school year and to 2% during the 2025-26 and 2026-27 school years. The Washougal School Board’s goal for the fund balance is 6%.

WSD Finance Director Kris Grindy said the school district also may need to make a second round of cuts.

“We will evaluate and revisit ‘round two’ based on what we know about the impact of the legislative session, (our collective) bargaining, inflation, increased utility costs and the spending forecast for the current school year,” Grindy told Washougal School Board members during their Jan. 24 board meeting.

Enrollment has ‘significant impact’ on district’s resources, including local levies

The district also projects it will end the current school year with 2,659 full-time equivalent (FTE) students — 21 fewer than it projected ahead of the 2023-24 school year.

District leaders eliminated several staff positions and cut individual building budgets by 75% in the fall of 2023, in response to the lower enrollment numbers, which equal fewer per-pupil state funds coming into the school district.

“Enrollment has a significant impact on the number of resources that we have available to our district to provide excellent educators and support services to our students,” Grindy said. “We will continue to make progress toward aligning to the state’s protocol funding model to achieve a sustainable budget that accomplishes most of our district goals. We know we can’t continue to operate on the same path that we’ve been on because we don’t have the resources.”

Grindy explained that, due to the lower enrollment numbers, the district has been unable to collect all of the money from its most recent educational programs and operations levy, which voters approved in April 2023. The district was set to collect $9.5 million in 2024, but will only receive $8.8 million.

“We saw in the survey that people are frustrated because they don’t understand why we’re having budget deficits or budget issues (after) they passed the levy,” Grindy said. “We recognize that. I’m frustrated about that, too. It would make my life a little bit easier if we could (collect that $700,000). But it’s not legally available to us to do so. I know there’s some movement in this legislative session around how we can attach some regionalization to the per-pupil factor. I know (Templeton’s) working on it with her teams to advocate for that, and I’m supporting (her) in advocating for maybe making some changes there.”

Templeton thanked the district’s executive and building leadership teams, who she said accepted reduced compensation increases before the start of the 2023-24 school year in an effort to help the district save money.

“This is not forever,” Templeton said. “This is what needs to happen today in order for us to be financially solvent. Give us a little time. Let’s see if enrollment turns around in the next several years, and then we can revisit some of these conversations. But for today, this is a sacrifice that is going to get shared across the entire organization.”

The survey, which can be found on the WSD’s website and surveymonkey.com/r/WSD-2024, will remain open through Thursday, Feb. 8.

The school board will host a “listening tour” from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, at Washougal High School’s Excelsior building, and Templeton will hold a superintendent’s roundtable event to share information about the budget shortfall and gather more community input from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at the Washougal School District office, 4855 Evergreen Way, Washougal.

For more information about the district’s budget, visit washougal.k12.wa.us/district-budget-information.